“The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country. “George S. Patton, Jr. (Palmer, 2020)
Have you ever wondered what the army represents for a state? What about fresh graduates of a military academy?
In what follows I do not intend to answer these questions, instead I would like to share with you a few thoughts regarding a painful story, a story that tells us about the untold grief of a people who although robbed, humiliated, emotionally, and physically devastated less than a day ago, it received another blow, in a unique moment in the lives of cadets and their families who accompanied them with excitement and love to the event: the graduation ceremony of the Military Academy in Homs, Syria, which took place on Thursday, October 05, 2023. The moment of relaxation that had gripped graduates, parents, siblings, friends, and military personnel alike at the end of the ceremony has been brutally and bloodily interrupted by an attack carried out with drone-loaded explosives in the inner courtyard of the Homs Military Academy, in which at least 89 people died (Eyon, 2023) and 240 were wounded, according to several sources.
Since it is known that not many people may be aware of what it means to be a soldier/officer, or to become one, I would like to emphasize the sacrifices made by the cadets and their families. Likewise, the efforts made by the state represented through the academic and instructional staff of an academy so that the future of that country’s army can rely on honorable, well-trained personnel displaying unique courage and motivation to enroll in an academy, to endure the rigors of military and academic training, are enormous. In addition to these invaluable efforts of basically all armies around the world, in the case of Syrian cadets, one must add the context in which they decided to pursue a military career. The Syrian homeland which they are preparing to defend is continually under attack from the outside in many ways including militarily, is being invaded by foreign forces, crippled economically by foreign entities, sanctioned and the army they are professionally prepared to be part of is continuously under attack by terrorist groups fueled by foreign states.
The political and security context
Nowadays Syria, a great ancient civilization that experienced fabulous cultural and societal advances, and imperial conquests and wars alike, struggles to put an end to a conflict that began in 2011, allegedly in the form of an uprising. Certainly, I cannot extract this conflict from the broader landscape of contemporary Color Revolutions, Arab Spring, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and other hybrid conflicts, but the Syrian conflict cannot be fully equivalated with any of these trends as well. Since 2011, Syria has been attacked by the so-called terrorist groups, by Israel that invokes Iranian presence on Syrian soil and it has been invaded by the US which strategically occupies oil fields and trains/supports at the discursive level only Kurdish personnel, creating the potential to disrupt Syrian, Iraqi, and Turkish borders at some point in time. Basically, the entire border with NATO, i.e. the one with Türkiye, has been actually taken out from Syrian government’s control, is unstable and areas like Idlib are presented to the global public as black boxes: we do not know what actually happens there but we should not seek for answers or transparency either. The so-called territories occupied by terrorist groups appear to exist without any plausible explanation on how this was possible, while some advanced or developing economies are faced with immense debt, inflation, worsening economic situation and rising potential for social unrest.
Being readmitted in the Arab League after a long period of stalemate with its Arab friendly countries, Syria is hoping to gradually escape the holistic blockade it has been subjected to by the West. The American and Israeli plans for the region are increasingly faced with an increasing Iranian influence, a decades-long alliance between Syria and the Russian Federation and the looming influence of BRICS and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in and around the region. While China introduced a peace initiative in the region, including a Two-State Solution for Palestine, resumption of Saudi-Iranian diplomatic relations and begin to contribute at the reconstruction of Syria, the US pushes for the Abraham Accords and supports a potential competitor of BRI in the form of India-Middle East – Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), that does not include Syria. This divisive reaction to China’s visionary initiative may have theoretical chances of success, but the fact the that the Old Silk Road passed through Syria and Türkiye for objective geographic reasons may be taken into consideration as well.
In addition to the above, it should be mentioned that recently tensions have increased at least at the discursive level between the United States and Turkey regarding Ankara’s latest counter-terrorist operation in both Syria and Iraq, that the Syrian army is being attacked by terrorist groups, the Druze have started to protest due to the cut in subsidies, and at the border with Jordan, the situation is being inflamed due to the Captagon trafficking, obviously also at the discursive level.
Hence, I will just summarize that the conflict from Syria is not only related to removing the President of Syria from power, targeting Syrian population or attempts to break Syrian territory apart, but influence in a country that is desired by many opponents. President Assad’s recent visit to China was an important step in further breaking diplomatic isolation and this represents an important part of a globally competitive context with stakes at superpower level.
Who is behind the terrorist attack?
Interestingly enough, a post dated August 30th, 2013, the Institute for the Study of Warfare (ISW), titled “Security Forces Evacuate Homs Military Academy”, mentions among others that the Homs Military Academy is prone to be a target in case of airstrikes, pointing out that both the current President of Syria and his father were among the graduates of this institution. Of relevance is the fact that this warning was published in 2013 and not in 2023, i.e. 10 years later, when things seemed to have calmed down in Syria at least in the government-controlled areas. This level of detail of target planning can hardly be reached by so-called rebel groups with no clear structure and activity, hence the relevance of such public messages increases.
The attack has been perpetrated allegedly by so-called terrorist groups according to various sources. It has been carried out with drones carrying explosives. However, the main question raised in this section is related to who is behind the attack, not who carried it out. Not even in 2023 can a normal country develop drone technology and explosives to carry out such attacks, let alone an isolated enclave. Therefore, stating that allegedly civilian technology might have been misused for purposes unknown to suppliers would represent an offense to the dead innocent cadets that were targeted along with their families in Homs. The idea that we know more since we have greater access to data or news, and science decodes DNA and plans to help conquer the Moon, becomes a paradox when realizing that nobody is able to stop the delivery of drones into terrorist-controlled areas. Therefore, my answer to the question is: any statement from usually well-informed officials suggesting that it is not known who is behind the attacks should be taken with a grain of salt.
The Syrian government is not able to protect its territory and population according to some sources. This might very well be the case, but what should be expected after the systematic and vigorous blockade and attacks Syria faced for more than a decade? My answer would be: precisely this. While some countries understood the human and societal tragedy and have demonstrated compassion with the survivors and communities that faced losses in this attack on civilians, others are deepening the tragedy by trying to blame this solely on the government. Calling on the government to start protecting better its citizens will probably not result in hundreds of air defence systems deployed, but Syria’s persistence and a world reoriented towards other means of achieving results might change the situation for this country.
If I am to consider something complementary to the political and security context in which this attack on Syria’s future took place, I cannot help thinking of Mahmud Darwish’s poem “They would love to see me dead,” specifically a few lines that I have extracted from the great Palestinian poet’s wonderful poem to create the image the terrorist attack in the courtyard of the military academy in Homs left me with.
“They would love to see me dead, so they say: He belongs to us, he is ours.
For twenty years I have heard their footsteps on the walls of the night.
They open no door, yet here they are now. (..).
I asked: When will you begin my assassination?
Already done, they said. (..)“.
The recent attack that targeted those present at the graduation ceremony at the Homs Military Academy is a human tragedy that shocks beyond the Syrian borders. If such behavior is acceptable today in global security and international relations, then tomorrow any parent, relative or friend of every military member that serves in a conventional army must accept the idea that someone close may be assassinated with no repercussions. Or always remember (as the Holocaust is) the tragedies from the Homs Military Academy and Camp Speicher and contribute to a future in which atrocities are unanimously called out and systematically eliminated, especially terrorism used as a tool by certain state actors.
And if you are interested to know what happened in Syria on Thursday, do not forget the questions at the beginning of these report. The purpose of the attack speaks about the interests of whoever is behind it.
 It should be considered that the number of deaths varies depending on the source. The Syrian Ministry of Health speaks of between 80 and 89 dead and 240 wounded, while other sources indicate 100 or more dead and 240 wounded.
|In commemoration of those murdered in the terrorist attack on the.10.2023, in Homs, Syria, I have retrieved some lines and images from the accounts of the social network “X”, so that the world understands that innocent people died there, citizens of a state, victims of petty, despicable interests of great and regional powers. Rest in peace!|
1.The account of Fares Shehabi فارس الشهابي – @ShehabiFares –
Head of Aleppo’s Industry Chamber & Ohio State Buckeye
“A young Syrian army officer with his mother celebrating his graduation moments before they were both murdered by al-Qaeda’s drone attack on the military academy ceremony in Homs. 89 martyrs were killed among them 31 women and 5 children.”
2. The account of AFP
“Syria began burying its dead Friday after a drone attack on a military academy graduation ceremony in Homs killed dozens, while Damascus pummeled opposition-held areas in response to the assault by “terrorist organizations”. https://tinyurl.com/mry74tsh”. https://x.com/AFP/status/1710248537425162390?s=20
3. The text in Arabic, says: “The father of the twin martyrs, Majd and Nour is crying in front of their innocent bodies.”
4. The account of SANA News Agency – @SANAEnOfficial
“Government of the #Syrian Arab Republic announces a 3-day official mourning as of Friday October 6 for the martyrs, of civilians and soldiers, who passed away in a cowardly terrorist attack https://sana.sy/en/?p=318107”; https://x.com/SANAEnOfficial/status/1709984295459184811?s=20
إنّا لله وإنّا إليه راجعون
About the author:
Prof. Ecaterina Matoi is Program Director at MEPEI.